Wednesday, 8 January 2014

'Little Bee': A poignant tale, with a very dark 'sting'

I purchased 'Little Bee' from a Balinese book store while on holidays, imagining,  for some reason, that it would be a relaxing diversion for one of my eyes, while the other one watched my children splashing in the pool....

Now, there is unquestionably more than one way to be 'wrong' in this world, for example you could be;

Wrong in a way that causes nasty and unwanted consequences to wreak havoc on your life, or

Wrong in that your expectations were 'wrong' and you have ended up with a different kind of benefit, unexpected, but not entirely unwelcome.
When it came to my choice of book, I was wrong, very wrong; happily though, my mistake fell into the second category of error.

'Little Bee'  (also published under the name 'On the other hand'), was NOT a relaxing holiday read, rather it is an upsetting and brutal tale where two worlds (one civilised and safe, one desperate and violently misogynistic) collide, sparking a series of events possessed with the unstoppable momentum of a runaway train.

While, the cover of the book rather coyly insists on not giving the plot of the story away, I think some details are required before the decision is made 'to read, or not to read'; especially for younger readers:

Little Bee: read this, before you read that...

  • 'Little Bee' centres around the life of a Nigerian Refugee, Little Bee. Little Bee lives in fear of 'The Men Coming'. In her world, when the men come, it is better to be already dead.
  • Little Bee's life entwines with that of Sarah, a hopelessly (if temporarily) sheltered English woman whom she meets on Beach in Nigeria. Horror (and no, there is no other word for it) accompanies Little Bee to the beach for that fateful meeting.
  • Cleave alludes to this horror for much of the book, but be warned, an unflinching, graphic and shattering description of the events on the beach is eventually given. For me, I found reading these pages difficult and upsetting, I also found myself thinking; 'If only more people would read this book. How could people remain 'cold' to the plight of so many refugees when faced with this reality?' 

You might be wondering, where exactly is the benefit to be found in reading a book like this on a holiday, or anywhere, for that matter? Again, while not giving the plot away I say this; Cleave has produced a powerful and thought provoking novel, highlighting with a terrible clarity the plight of the dispossessed and helpless in our world. He has shown us their fear and desperation, while shining a light on our own indifference and, ironically, our own fear.

Read it to challenge your thinking and world view, though perhaps don't make it your first choice for a relaxing pool side read!

Little Bee is available for purchase through via the following link:

'Little Bee' by Chris Cleave


  1. This book was part of our Book Club reading some years ago and was described as being "hilariously funny". Well, either my sense of humour is not very well developed or they were talking about a different book. This is NOT a funny book.
    Well written, confronting and thought provoking. Makes those of us fortunate enough to live in the Western World take stock of how we behave in different cultures, The protagonists in the book pay a hefty price for their arrogance and lack of empathy.
    Definitely not a light poolside read! But a book well worth reading.

    1. Thank you for your comment, I too have read reviews that label this book as funny. I don't think I laughed once. Or even smiled for that matter!
      If your sense of humour is under developed then we have that in common :)